As the Brampton Thunder rebuild, hoping to recapture the glories of season’s past, an impressive rookie crop forms the foundation. Led by Sochi gold medalist Laura Fortino (the first overall pick in the 2014 CWHL Draft) along with 2014 Patty Kazmaier Award winner Jamie Lee Rattray at forward, a patient fan base sees only good things ahead.
Such an example was evident during the Thunder’s season opener. Facing off against the Calgary Inferno, who made significant offseason upgrades to their offense, the host team Thunder put up a valiant fight. Standing between the pipes was rookie backstop Erica Howe. Having grown up in the Ottawa area with Rattray, the two have been teammates at the PWHL, IIHF and NCAA levels, winning the NCAA Frozen Four title in 2014.
While the Inferno’s offense overwhelmed Brampton, prevailing by a 5-2 score, the rookie crop never gave up. Howe only gave up one goal in the first period (Jenna Cunningham at 9:02) while stifling four power play attempts by the Inferno. Although Calgary extended its lead by a 3-1 tally in the second stanza, three Brampton rookies engaged in a unique scoring play.
After Calgary’s Rebecca Johnston (a two-time Winter Games gold medallist) scored the first goal of the second at 4:16, Brampton regrouped and quickly got on the scoreboard. Just one minute and 40 seconds later, Brampton capitalized on its second power play opportunity of the game. With former Brampton player Bailey Bram serving a roughing penalty, rookie Carly Mercer scored on Delayne Brian, the winner of the 2014 CWHL Most Outstanding Goalie award.
Earning the assists on Mercer’s power play marker were Fortino and Rattray, marking a career milestone that will eternally link them in Brampton history. All three earned their first career CWHL points on the same scoring play. In addition, it was Brampton’s first goal of the season.
Although Calgary extended their lead to a 4-1 mark early in the third, Mercer was not finished. With Taryn Peacock serving a roughing penalty for Calgary, Mercer logged her second power play tally of the contest. Trimming Calgary’s lead to two goals, Canadian national team blueliners Courtney Birchard and Jocelyne Larocque (making her Brampton debut) earned the assists, providing Mercer with a two-goal performance in her CWHL debut.
Past the midway point of the third, Calgary put the game out of reach, extending their lead back to three goals. Although Erica Howe was pulled in favor of sophomore goalie Sonia van der Bliek, she provided a courageous performance, making 33 saves. Although Howe would have preferred to win her CWHL debut, she symbolized the determination of Brampton’s rookie crop, ensuring better days to come.
Taking into account that Brampton does not have the likes of elite scorers such as Gillian Apps, Laura McIntosh and Jayna Hefford (the CWHL’s all-time leading scorer) are not with the club, rookies such as Fortino, Rattray and Mercer have big shoes to fill. After a solid effort in her debut, Mercer would emerge with the Third Star of the Game nod. She will certainly be counted on to provide more performances similar to that during the season as Brampton looks to qualify for the postseason.